Take back your life

A friend of mine is in trouble. Her marriage is in ruins, and she is in the midst of a dysfunctional divorce process. She’s uprooted, disheartened, lost. And I can only begin to imagine the effort it costs her to get out of bed each day and get her kids going.

I’m sad for her, and I’m at a loss. This has been going on for almost two years, and the path seems to be a downward spiral. She can’t seem to break free, to reset.

I know something about sadness, and life not working out the way I thought it would. I don’t have visible tragedy in my life;  I have the drip, drip, drip of missed opportunities, lost dreams, or no dream at all…just a kind of wandering in the wilderness, wondering, even as the externals of life look pretty and orderly: “is this all there is?”

My husband and I have had it all, and at times we’ve known that, and celebrated it. And we’ve had it all, and at times, thrown it away with both hands…couldn’t grasp the goodness that was in front of us for looking at what was wrong. That’s an easy trap to fall into, one that I think most people are guilty of sliding into on a regular basis. Isn’t that what movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” are all about? The reminder that with all the negatives, life is still pretty sweet…well, we know it. But how hard it is to live that reality day by day! No matter how often I re-learn that lesson, I find it waiting around the corner again. And each time, I have to internalize it like it’s new knowledge. Some things take an eternity, apparently, to really sink in.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think this is one of the most common failings of modern life, modern Americans. Maybe people in general… I don’t know…is this just a common human trait?

This morning I was thinking about my friend. She doesn’t have a job, because bringing in her own income impacts the settlement she is able to get from the divorce. She’s depressed, understandably so. She’s lost in regret for the past, and regret for the future. She’s mourning the loss of life as she knew it, and life as her kids knew it.

No one can change any of that, and what’s done is done. No going back. But I want to tell her there is still an option to go forward. I’m not sure she can hear this. But this is what I want to say to her:

Get up! I know you’ve been paralyzed by everything that’s happened. But you can’t live in that state. You have to begin. Begin today, this morning. Set the smallest of goals, and mark it off your list. Then set another. Keep setting them until you’re really moving. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. What matters is that you see what you do as accomplishment, movement, and an act of will…your will. Energy and accomplishment produce more energy and accomplishment.

Look for a job. I know that may be against the advice of attorneys, but having your own income is liberating, and will give you renewed self respect. What if you eventually don’t need alimony? What if you could stand on your own? How sweet that would be! Going back to the work force when you’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for many years is challenging and intimidating…and invigorating. It will bring new people, new experiences, new thoughts to your life. It will broaden your horizons. It will give you a goal, and foster ambition. And it will give you money in your account.

Start a gratitude journal. This may seem like salt in the wound, to even suggest this. But I believe so strongly in the power of attitude and the healing that a thankful heart can experience…I don’t think a wounded soul can move forward without this step. Yes, life is unfair. Yes, life is hard. But we don’t complain when we are “unfairly” gifted. We just accept it as a natural thing, that we should be healthy, have food, have a roof, have healthy kids. Open your eyes, open your heart!

Finally…and again, this may seem like salt in the wound…I would suggest connecting with a women’s shelter…volunteer for an hour or two, or more, each week. This is not about building one person up by looking down on the misfortune of others…this is about recognizing that we all have something to give, even when it seems we have very little. And giving is the best cure for our own heartaches. Yes, there is a need to receive, and to cocoon, and to lick our own wounds. But that works better when we’re also giving, reaching out, making ourselves go beyond the comfort zone.

My route to work in Ketchikan takes me past a women’s safe house. When I’m distressed, I often think about the women who seek haven there. My problems become much more manageable when I recognize: no one beat me up, or threatened my kids, or blew money for this month’s bills. Does that mean I don’t have legitimate issues? No. And certainly my friend has sorrows that are real, and wounds that will take years to heal. But I’m reminded that things could be worse. You have to begin somewhere. I choose to begin with acknowledging: even when I’m struggling, I have people in my life, things in my life, that bless me. I have a place to start. And so does she…she just can’t see it yet.

I want to infuse my friend with determination, and to say: don’t let this sorrow, the end of your marriage, and the way you’ve been treated, don’t let it rob you of what you can do for yourself, for your children. Starting over is hard, and I understand the paralysis that comes with depression. So get help for depression if you need that. But act! Move! Get up! Do it for your kids, if not for yourself. One of these days, you’ll realize you are doing it for yourself as well, and you’ll all benefit in the end.

Even as I write this, there’s a little voice inside my head that says it’s never as easy as it reads. No. But what’s the alternative? She’s already lost two years of her life, and her kids’ lives, to turmoil and anger and sadness. How much more will she give? Eventually, it is counterproductive to mourn. It becomes a way of life; but not a healthy way to live. I’ve learned this for myself, and I know how hard it is to make that shift in thinking. I’ve done it. My circumstances were different, but in their own way, no less debilitating. But I don’t know how to jump start someone else. Sending her a to-do list, or a book to read, or listening to her, or suggesting that she see a doctor and go on anti-depressants…are these just band aids? I can’t put my hands around what she most needs. I’m at a loss for her. I keep coming back to the same thing. She has to reach down inside herself and want to take her life back. She has to want control enough that she pushes through the barriers. She has to want it. Others around her have wanted it for her. We’ve been sad, and seen the legitimate distress of her life. But now it’s down to her. Really, rock bottom, down to her will, and her strength.

I  choose to live by choice, not by chance; to make changes, not excuses; to be motivated, not manipulated; to be useful, not used; to excel, not compete. I choose self-esteem, not self-pity.  I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the random opinion of others.



  • December 2, 2012, 12:22 pm  Reply

    good advice if she is strong enough to take it

    • December 2, 2012, 8:18 pm

      Thank you…not sure she’s there yet. She’s heard advice, from many…but this is one of those situations…you hear with your mind, but you act from your heart…she’s not ready to act yet. But soon, I hope! ~ Sheila

  • December 2, 2012, 3:00 pm  Reply

    I can’t think of anything you’ve missed, nor imagine how it could have been better said. And, as I’m sure you know, there’s no better incentive for change than desire. And especially desire that is freshly discovered, rather than ‘theraputically’ manufactured.

    But how does one discover that kind of fresh desire when they are so totally preoccupied with a sense of loss, incompetence, futility, etc? The answer is almost always, “by accident;” i.e., something unexpected happens that somehow rekindles one’s imagination…and spirit.

    Perhaps the best anyone can do for another in that situation is help them become increasingly exposed to thoughts, people, and activities that exist beyond their normal, everyday experience. In that regard, I’m reminded of a scene from old movie (the title I can’t remember) where a woman with similar ‘difficulties’ is relentlessly enticed by a friend to go to the local ‘Saturday Nite’ barn dance with her. She had never done anything like that before…but finally, and very reluctantly, she agreed to go. Once there she couldn’t help but be infected by the overpowering energy and spirit of the place. Slowly she began to rock and twist a little to the music. Then, suddenly, the unthinkable happened! A man reached from the circling crowd, grabbed her hand, and pulled her into the action.

    By the end of the evening, her life had changed. Why? Desire. A desire do something that she’d never done before. And to do it again, and again…until she was no longer who she was…before.

    • December 2, 2012, 8:15 pm

      I agree…sometimes the thing that is instrumental in rekindling a desire to live and to fight (I mean in a healthy way, not in the legal sense) comes out of the blue, and maybe surprise is part of the cure…to realize you still have an interest in life, in something that takes you outside yourself. I think ultimately it will be through her kids. She is going through the motions, but I think she’s lost heart…just has to find the spark to rekindle that somehow. Hard to watch the struggle! ~ Sheila

  • December 2, 2012, 3:28 pm  Reply

    I so feel your heartfelt concern for the well-being of your friend…
    It’s so hard to see sopmeone you love just completely give up…
    I have to say…I believe in professional counseling…
    but, maybe someone that is recommended…They might suggest or have her do
    just what you suggested…keeping a journal…maybe even some meds for a little
    while…keeping herself busy with something she really likes to do…Maybe just a
    hobby if she has one…I wish her the best…and one good thing that she doesn’t
    even realize…she has you…someone who cares…Thank goodness…mkg

    • December 2, 2012, 8:06 pm

      Thank you for your concern Marilyn. It is hard to watch her struggle to find her spirit again! I agree, counseling can be a good thing. She’s done a bit of that, early in the breakup of the relationship. Now she’s just so mired in the legal issues and money stress…I don’t know if she’s even interested in pursuing it at this point. The biggest thing she has going for her is her love for her kids…she just has to find a way to begin. ~ Sheila

  • December 2, 2012, 8:16 pm  Reply
  • December 3, 2012, 3:51 am  Reply

    Wonderful advice; I hope she can read this and see herself in here. Sometimes all one needs to know is that another sees the hope in front of them!


    • December 3, 2012, 7:21 pm

      Thank you for the encouragement…but she doesn’t read my blog, as far as I know. I’m testing out what I want to say to her when I have opportunity. Building my courage in this environment! So far my husband has been most successful at giving her frank and down to earth advice…my time with her has been more of the cry on the shoulder variety. But I think I need to step up and tell her it’s time to get on with her life. ~ Sheila

  • December 7, 2012, 10:15 am  Reply

    One thing she still has – a really good friend. You sound full of concern and wisdom and I’m sure she can use both at a time like this. Bravo to you for taking time to spend with her even if it just listening as she vents. You are a lovely person.

    • December 11, 2012, 8:30 pm

      Thank you Renee. This is hard to witness, and it’s often difficult to know what to say in the face of issues that I haven’t confronted. I know she’ll figure it out in time…I just hope it is sooner rather than later. ~ Sheila

  • December 19, 2012, 11:18 am  Reply

    Depression is far more than lack of initiative, determination or will. Depression is anger turned inward. No matter how much the person wants to be okay, functional, or (omg) happy, all the advice in the world doesn’t turn a magic key so some motor will whip into action.

    One of my friends had an incredibly beautiful daughter – inside and out. Cat was her only child. Cat was intelligent, excelled in sports, modelled, taught fitness, and had many good friends. She didn’t abuse substances, chose healthy young men to date and loved her mom.

    Two years ago, at 23, Cat went to a concert in Seattle with two friends. They did not partake of any drugs or alcohol (!) and, after the concert, decided to have a quick sleep in the car – then drive back to Vancouver. The young man woke up and thought he’d let the girls sleep while he started the drive home.

    A car uncontrollably came at them, the young man swerved to miss it and hit a cement abutment. Cat was taken to the hospital, still alive, but her brain was destroyed. They put her on life support until my friend could get there. My friend and her estranged husband then made organ donation decisions. Then they took her off support and my friend said goodbye.

    The other two young people lived, thankfully.

    After 1 1/2 years, my friend was drinking heavily, lived mostly in bed when not at her job, and was contemplating suicide. Her home was in shambles and some friends would come over to try inject some sort of order. They didn’t want her to talk about Cat anymore. My friend felt people avoiding her.

    People began telling her it was time to move on. It was time to do, join, volunteer, try, be, etc etc.

    One day I phoned her. I said, “I need a walking buddy. I need someone who likes to walk every day – doesn’t have to even be far! But are you willing and available?”

    She and I began this 6 months ago. We’ve been faithful about our jaunts – 5 days a week. She has talked her heart out. At first the whole walk was about Cat. Then I’d talk about some challenge in my life and ask for her opinion. The walks became 1/2 full of Cat. Now? My friend has been off alcohol for 6 months, she’s becoming fit and losing weight, we’ve joined aquavit together, she doesn’t go to a therapist anymore and while she knows she’s safe to talk about Cat freely with me, many of our walks are about us solving the world’s problems.

    A lot of times, we just need to know someone is willing to love us. To meet us where we are. Just as we are. With all our foibles and nonsense.

    Depressed people dislike themselves enough without receiving criticism which is what advice feels like. And is.

    I hear your care and concern. May it be the seasoning for her recovery.

    • December 19, 2012, 11:12 pm

      First, thanks for taking the time to share your friend’s story. I cannot imagine that experience, although I have lost people in my extended family to car accidents. But I can’t imagine losing a child. How kind and insightful of you to help your friend begin to come back to herself.
      I sincerely hope that in the situation I wrote about my friend will begin to find her footing. I think it will be easier when the divorce is actually final. But no doubt, she needs to do a lot of healing and self discovery to see who she is after 20+ years of marriage…who emerges on the other side of the whirlwind?
      Thanks for your concern and your words of wisdom. ~ Sheila

  • December 20, 2012, 7:16 am  Reply

    Thank you, Sheila! … for reaching out to your friend and to others this way.

    • December 20, 2012, 9:30 pm

      Thank you Georgia! Not sure if I’ve helped, but I had to try…can’t just stand by and say nothing. ~ Sheila

  • November 29, 2013, 8:23 am  Reply

    It is so hard to know how to help someone, isn’t it? Many years ago I met someone who lamented that her friends wouldn’t listen to her talk about her troubled marriage. I thought I could be a hero and listen, isn’t that what friends are for? I was a slow learner, but I finally figured out she wasn’t interested in taking ownership of her 50% of the marriage.
    I hope your friend wakes up one day and decides this is the day she will make a change -if not for herself, then for her children.

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